St. Paul avenges regular season loss to Thomaston in Class S first round
BRISTOL - Thirty-four days ago, the St. Paul boys basketball team walked off its home floor 16-point losers to Thomaston in a Naugatuck Valley League-Berkshire League battle.
The defeat, while just one of nine the Falcons suffered in the regular season, left a lasting impression on the team. And thanks an odd scheduling quirk, they received a rare opportunity Tuesday to avenge an out of conference loss in the same season.
This was a chance St. Paul was not going to let slip away.
Led by Brendan Carroll's team-high 16 points and four late free throws, the No. 15 Falcons held off 18th-seeded Thomaston, 59-52, in the first round of the Class S Tournament before a near sellout and energized crowd at St. Paul Catholic High School.
The Falcons were clearly a different team this go-around.
"We were in a better frame of mind tonight," St. Paul head coach Steve Phelps said. "Having seen (Thomaston) and being dominated by them before, the kids learned numerous lessons from it."
"This time against them we made it personal on defense," added Carroll. "The last time we took defense for granted and tonight we focused on taking ownership of our own man and locking him down."
The Falcons forced Thomaston to play from behind most of the night.
They jumped out to a 26-18 lead in the second after Tyler Jones converted on a spectacular putback plus a foul for a three-point play.
The Golden Bears fought back with five points from Andrew Stern to trail by three at the half and then regained the advantage 32-31 on a three from Drew Gagne in the third.
Kyle Dube quickly answered with a lay-up to put St. Paul back up by one and was followed by a three from Carroll the next time down the floor. The Falcons would not trail again, finishing the quarter on a 16-5 run with Jones netting five of his 14 points in the last minute.
"We calmed things down (after Thomaston took the lead)," Carroll said. "We were rushing our offense a little and taking the shots they wanted, not the ones we were looking for."
Thomaston, on the back on Gagne's eight fourth quarter points, pulled within three at 51-48 with 3:25 left, but were not able to get any closer. The difference came at the foul line with the Golden Bears missing four of five attempts in the period, while Carroll (4-of-6) and Dube (2-of-2) sealed the win with their conversions in the final 1:21.
"We lost focus at times and St. Paul is too good of a team to give multiple possessions to," Thomaston head coach Gary Franklin said. "We had several rebounds get away from us and in the state tournament you can't do that."
Drew Gagne led the Golden Bears, who finish the season 12-11, with 24 points, while his brother Alex scored 19. Stern finished with 10 points and 15 rebounds.
"It took a very good effort (from St. Paul) in their home gym to beat us and it went down to the very end," Franklin said. "It's a tough loss, but it doesn't take away from our season."
"Thomaston is a well-coached and very good team," noted Phelps. "Their players know their strengths and play hard. I'm very proud of the fact we were able to get a win against them tonight."
The Falcons move on to play Classical Magnet on the road in the second round. It's all about survival this time of year.
"We stuck together tonight because we didn't want to go home," Caroll said. "For the last week we've been focusing on continuing the journey in March. We really have come together as a team."
What a difference 34 days makes.